1792 Silver Center cent has a newer plug, made of iron

Altered pattern surfaced in a 2006 police property sale, now set for November auction
By , Coin World
Published : 10/20/17
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An intriguing 1792 Silver Center cent pattern that is among the first coins struck at the Philadelphia Mint will highlight Heritage’s Nov. 2 Premier session during its Nov. 2 to 4 U.S. Coin Signature auction in Dallas.

The 1792 Silver Center cent (whose center plug is not silver and apparently not original) is graded Very Good Details, Plug Replaced, Repaired, Scratched, by Numismatic Guaranty Corp.

It is listed as Judd 1 in J. Hewitt Judd’s reference to the pattern series, United States Pattern Coins and is one of around 14 examples known. As Heritage writes in its description, “Although the famous 1792 half dismes were struck earlier, in Philadelphia saw-maker John Harper’s cellar, the 1792 Silver Center cents were probably the first coins struck inside the confines of the Philadelphia Mint.”

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Their famed silver plug was struck as a matter of necessity, as the Mint Act of 1792 specified the cent’s weight at 264 grains, which would have resulted in a coin potentially too large for practical use. The addition of a silver plug worth three-quarters of a cent would maintain the intrinsic value of the cent, but with far less copper.

The plug was inserted into a center hole in the copper planchet before striking. Heritage explains, “When the coins were struck, the silver plug would flatten and spread out on both sides, resulting in a secure bond with the host copper planchet, creating the nation’s first bimetallic coin.” Contemporary evidence indicates that the coins were struck in early December 1792, but the complex production proved impractical and the idea of a bimetallic cent was abandoned after patterns were struck.


Designer abandoned original reverse design late in the process Also in our Oct. 30 issue, Mike Diamond presents an interesting question in his Collectors’ Clearinghouse column: How many errors can one coin have?


2006 unclaimed property

The coin that will be offered in Dallas surfaced in California in a 2006 Modesto Police Department auction of unclaimed property where it sold for just $400 to a winning bidder who was relatively new to numismatics. “The collector said he examined the coin, consulted numismatic reference material and decided to take a chance bidding on the cent after seeing the advertisement for the sale in his local newspaper,” wrote Paul Gilkes in a 2009 Coin World article describing the coin’s discovery. However, he told Gilkes that after consulting with several others in the hobby, he convinced himself that it was fake. “I knew going in it was a gamble,” that collector said, adding, “I [gave] up on it, put it in a closet and forgot about it.”

In 2008, after purchasing another coin whose authenticity was questionable, the buyer decided to send both pieces to ANACS, where the 1792 pattern was examined by ANACS senior grader, Michael Fahey, and senior numismatist J.P. Martin. Martin said that both he and Fahey were certain that the coin was genuine when they examined the piece but said, “As with any coin of such value and rarity that we certify, we wanted the input of other experts. Every one of them agreed with us that the piece was genuine.”

Several of the other experts to whom ANACS showed the piece examined it at the November 2008 Baltimore Coin and Currency Convention. Among those who examined the pattern were Ken Bressett, John Kraljevich, Julian Leidman, Anthony Terranova and Alan Weinberg.

At the time Weinberg believed that it may have been an excavation find; he also commented on the coin’s medium-brown, nonporous surfaces, telling Coin World, “It was very evidently carried as a pocket piece from the clean wear, decent surfaces and worn-down scratches but very early on, someone ‘vandalized’ it out of curiosity, to test its metal content, or just out of boredom.”

ANACS certified the cent and graded it Very Good 10.

Despite the presence of some long filing marks on both sides, the smooth olive-brown surfaces show no planchet voids, but the central design detail is missing and no design details are seen on either side of the plug. The curious overall appearance is similar to a lot described in Lyman Low’s 1904 sale of the H.G. Brown Collection, where a description reads, “Silver Center Cent, 1792. LIBERTY PARENT OF SCIENCE & INDUSTRY: Head r. R Type of the wreath Cent of 1793. The centre has been abused, probably when reinstating the small silver piece, otherwise good. Extremely rare.” The absence of a photo in that 1904 sale and the century-long gap in the coin’s provenance until its 2006 rediscovery makes conclusive linking of the two impossible, at least for now.

Odd plug discovered

However, when Heritage submitted the coin to NGC in anticipation of its November offering, NGC determined that the “silver” plug in this example is actually iron, because it is magnetic (while silver is not magnetic). The Heritage lot description speculates, “The silver plug was probably removed from the coin at an early date, before there was any numismatic market for rare coins in this country. The copper planchet was then carried as a pocket piece for some time. After coin collecting became widespread in the late 1850s, some enterprising coin doctor must have substituted the ferrous alloy plug to restore the coin’s original appearance, if not its original composition. The noted scratches probably occurred when the plug was replaced, as the protruding plug would have to be filed down to the level of the copper planchet.” The Heritage description concludes, “The appearance is not unlike some early silver dollars that were holed, plugged, and filed to adjust their weight.”

The coin is mentioned in the recent book 1792: Birth of a Nation’s Coinage, by Len Augsburger, Joel Orosz, and Pete Smith. Smith told Coin World that there are two other Silver Center pattern cents with plugs that have been abused or tooled in some way and that there are multiple variations of the silver plug even within this pattern issue.

Smith added, “I have been amused with auction lot descriptions that referred to the small copper cents as silver center cent without silver center. Perhaps this coin should be described as silver center cent without metallic silver center but with silver colored center.”

Augsberger told Coin World, “Kudos to Heritage for carefully studying this piece and accurately describing it for possible bidders. It’s unfortunate the plug isn’t silver, but the discovery of this piece at such a late date remains a fascinating story.”

Because of their rarity, Judd 1 1792 Silver Center cents sell infrequently at auction. Stack’s Bowers Galleries offered an example graded Very Fine 30 by NGC that did not meet its $260,000 reserve and went unsold at the auctioneer’s Aug. 11, 2016, Rarities Night auction at the American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money. That example had previously sold for $305,500 at a 2012 Heritage auction. Heritage offered a different example at its 2016 ANA auctions graded Specimen 35 by Professional Coin Grading Service, with a green Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker indicating quality within the grade, that sold for $352,500.

Stack’s Bowers wrote, in its March 2015 auction of one graded AU-53 and bearing a green CAC sticker (which sold for $499,375), “Of the 14 known specimens, it is remarkable that only one is impounded, namely the one that was fairly recently donated to the National Numismatic Collection. None are in the American Numismatic Society or the collection at Colonial Williamsburg; we know of none in the British Museum or elsewhere abroad.” As Heritage reminds bidders, “The Silver Center cent occupies a unique place in American numismatics, as one of the first products of the United States Mint and the precursor of the small-size cents we are so familiar with today.”

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